Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Why Helen MacInnes Should be Ludlum's Espionage Movie Successor

by Julia Buckley
I watched my video of The Bourne Ultimatum today, and it was great. I was contemplating the whole Bourne trilogy--a fantastic cinematic experience based on the exciting Robert Ludlum novels. While the movies are only loosely tied to the books, both the original Ludlum mysteries and the movies were huge successes and made Jason Bourne a name to be remembered. (All twenty-one of Ludlum's novels were New York Times bestsellers).

I'm wondering, then, how long it can be before some young Hollywood babe--male or female--will be snatched up to star in a flick based on a novel by Helen MacInnes. As far as I'm concerned, MacInnes hasn't gotten the credit she deserves for her contributions to the world of literature in general and mystery in particular. Officially her genre is "suspense," or perhaps sometimes she falls into the category of "espionage," but wherever you slot her, MacInnes is a great read.

I should note that four of MacInnes' novels WERE made into films, but not since the sixties. Her books adapted for films were: Above Suspicion, Assignment in Brittany, The Venetian Affair, and The Salzburg Connection. They even sound a bit like Ludlum titles, don't they? But MacInnes, who began writing in 1939, pre-dates Ludlum, who only began publishing his books in 1971 with The Scarlatti Inheritance.

MacInnes was born in Glasgow in 1907 and educated there, but eventually moved to New York with her husband Gilbert Highet, and she died there in 1985. She had degrees in French and German, but was working as a librarian when she met Highet.

Like the Bourne stories, MacInnes' tales bring the reader along with a character who is smart, tough, but always in jeopardy. Also like Ludlum's books, MacInnes' tales take her reader all over the world at a sometimes dizzying pace, and it's a terrific ride.

I started reading MacInnes when I was a teenager, and I had soon moved through all of her titles, my favorites being The Salzburg Connection, Neither Five Nor Three, The Venetian Affair, Decision at Delphi, Double Image, Snare of the Hunter. You can't really go wrong when picking up a Helen MacInnes. She is required reading in this field, and were she writing today, she would be as much of a franchise as Ludlum's books have become.
As evidence of her great plots, here's some flyleaf copy for The Venetian Affair that I found on Italian-mysteries.com: "New York drama critic Bill Fenner arrives in Paris, only to discover that his coat has accidentally been switched with another---and that he is therefore now $100,000 richer. But when the American Embassy refers him to NATO and the CIA, what started as a simple mistake becomes something far more complicated and deadly. For when Fenner hears of a Communist plot to assassinate DeGaulle, he is also informed that the key to stopping it lies in his own past..."(© Fawcett Crest)

Isn't that great? Doesn't that sound very Bourne-like? It certainly makes me wonder if Ms. MacInnes at any point influenced the great Robert Ludlum.

I would just like to have my own moment of hubris here and say that when the inevitable MacInnes movie comes out, I predicted it here--Julia Buckley, 2008. And if anyone out there making the movie is looking for extras, sign me up. :)


G.M. Malliet said...

Julia - I couldn't agree more. Helen MacInnes has been overlooked too long.

Keith Raffel said...

Read all those books in high school. Based on your say-so Julia, it's time to take another look.

Jessica Lourey said...

How do you all discover these books? I've never heard of her. Thanks for the recommendation!

Oh, and I tried to read a Bourne/Ludlum book last summer after seeing the most recent movie, and I was off-put by how one-dimensional the female characters were. It was the time, I know, but I couldn't finish the book.

Julia Buckley said...

To be honest I haven't read MacInnes in years, but I know the effect her books had on me, and they were very similar in content to the Bourne books. I was a huge fan--went through all her stuff right in a row.

Keith, let me know what you think.

Jess, the advantage I have is being OLD and having started reading at about ten. :) I had no other life, really.

Jessica Lourey said...

Me neither. Growing up, I lived out in the woods and read science fiction and ordered joy buzzers and whoopie cushions from the back of Archie comics.

Anyone know why I'm single? Anyone? Perplexing.

DVF 1739 said...

Macinnes is overlooked for sure. The writing lends it self to film. At some stqge someone will produce at leasst, Salzburd Connection and Assignment in Brittany are the ones for me.

David Ford